CARA HONEYCHURCH ENDS DECADE IN CEO ROLE

By Matt Stevens
November 19, 2020

The name Cara Honeychurch is one that has been associated with the sport of Tenpin Bowling in Australia for the last 35 years. A true icon as an athlete and leader as an administrator, after 35 years of service to the sport, Cara is bidding farewell after resigning as Tenpin Bowling Australia’s (TBA) Chief Executive Officer (CEO).   

“I’ve loved every minute of my 10 years at TBA and giving back to the sport that has given me so much.  But there comes a time for both the organisation and you personally that it’s time to move on” said Cara. “It’s healthy for organisations to have a change in leadership.  It brings a new perspective, skill sets and a different voice to the organisation.  This role has been incredibly demanding for the ten years I’ve been here, and for my own well-being and that of my family, I need to restore some balance.  The sport has been a part of my life for over 35 years, and I look back now just as I did when I was an athlete and call that the time is right for a change”.    

Never shy to take on a challenge, Cara will shortly commence a new role, in a new sport as General Manager of Corporate Services at Athletics Australia.

“I am thrilled to be given the opportunity to stay in sport and join an organisation like Athletics Australia.  I am incredibly passionate about sport and the impact it can have on people’s lives.   Regardless of the sport or the level you play, sport teaches so many valuable life skills.  Having now had the opportunity to observe this through my own children’s experience in sport, I feel blessed to be able to work in an industry that does so much for the community,” explained an excited Cara. “Being Victorian and locked down for such a long period of time, 2020 has made us appreciate the things that truly matter.  So many of us have missed our connection to sport and the sense of community that goes with it.  I love the goodwill and generosity of those that work in sport and how well we’ve banded together to help one another get through the challenges of 2020.  To be able to continue my career in sport is something I am very grateful for”.

THE BOWLER

Before life as a sports administrator, Cara was good at bowling. When I say good, I mean one of the very best this country has produced.

Such is the case with a lot of juniors in Australia, Cara loved sport and would try her hand at several before starting her bowling journey.

“I loved sport as a kid. I had a crack at everything. I tried all forms of athletics, softball, gymnastics, basketball; whatever there was I had a go at” explained Honeychurch. “At a very early age I told my parents I wanted to be a world champion – I just wasn’t sure what sport it was going to be”.

A family holiday to Canberra with Mum and Dad would introduce the one-day world champion to the sport that would consume her for much of her life.  One night during the Canberra holiday, at the age of 10 years old, a trip to the Olympic Bowl in Canberra with mum and dad was where she was introduced to the sport.

“From the first experience I fell in love with bowling. It was so different to anything else I’d tried.  I can’t put my finger on exactly what it was but perhaps as someone that detests the cold weather, being inside and the fact the ball came back to me may have helped!” joked Cara.

Upon returning from holiday to Melbourne, her dad John took Cara to the local centre at Keon Park. In a time with no bumpers, Cara’s first score would be a modest 34. A lucky encounter with an onlooker would help motivate the young Victorian to stick with the sport.

“I was fortunate at the time that renowned coach, Fred Sullivan was on a lane nearby and he was kind enough to give me a few pointers” explained Cara. “He taught me the basics and it was just enough to get me going in the right direction”.  Cara soon realised this was going to be the sport of choice for her. 

“Once I found bowling, I took it fairly seriously from the beginning” said Cara. “My personality is like that – once I’ve committed to something I give it my all – and I tried to learn as much about the sport as possible.  I soon joined a junior league and it all started from there”.

Born and raised in Victoria by her mother Sharlene and father John, Cara would quickly uncover opportunities in the bowling pathway.

“I made my first state team at 15 and bowled Presidents Shield in Rockhampton. It was my first trip on a plane and the first exposure to the best junior bowlers in Australia.  It was an eye opening experience that left me determined to keep improving,” explained Cara.

For three years from 1987-1989, Cara represented Victoria in Presidents Shield. A total of 45 games with an average of 175. She would never be named an All Star or never win the Australian Junior Masters. In her own words, she had a ‘solid junior career’ and that was mostly due to the intense competition that surrounded her.

“I was fortunate to grow through juniors competing against an incredibly strong contingent of talented girls including Ann-Maree Putney, Sharon McLeish, Kelly Warren, and Amanda Bradley all who were incredibly talented” explained Cara. “Women’s bowling was exceptionally strong in those days and undoubtedly our success was a result of us all pushing each other to get better.  It’s incredible to reflect that from that group of women, Ann-Maree, Amanda and Maxine Nable went on to win the Bowling World Cup”.

TOURNAMENT TIME

Five appearances for Victoria in the famous Walter Rachuig Trophy Tournament, Cara would bowl 91 games with an average of 198. In her 1995 Rachuig appearance she would become a co-record holder by bowling the highest series in a single year – a pinfall of 4,453 and an average of 212.

Her domestic amateur career remains one of the most remarkable in the history of the game.

A winner of three Australian Masters,  NSW Open, a three time VIC150 winner, five time Adelaide Women’s Cup winner – the complete resume of Cara’s domestic achievements is a lengthy one.  Where her results stand alone is the titles she won in open events, competing against the country’s best male athletes. 

In 1997 Cara claimed her first open title, the  South Australian Cup – the first of three titles.  A winner of the prestigious Australian Open in 2001,2002 and 2003 would provide some of her most satisfying accomplishments.

“I won quite a few open tournaments, and that’s one of my proudest achievements as women  didn’t receive 8 pin handicaps in those days” explained Honeychurch.

The South Pacific Classic was arguably the pinnacle event in the day as it was the qualifier for the Bowling World Cup (BWC).  Cara won the prestigious tournament four times but only had the opportunity to attend the BWC on two occasions.   This was the event that Cara set her sights on from the very beginning.

“Having witnessed Jeanette Baker win back to back titles in 1982 and 1983 and as the first Australian to do this that was where I wanted to be someday” said Cara.

Cara would compete twice in the World Cup. In 1994 she made her debut and finished third before returning in 1996 and becoming World Cup champion. The achievement would see her become the second Australian ever to win the event and importantly it was a pinnacle goal ticked off the list.

An assassin on the lanes. A fearless, determined and accurate beast. Yet, the mindset of Cara differed from a lot of elite athletes.

“I never got ahead of myself. I didn’t ever enter a tournament expecting to win. It’s just not how I am. I was an extremely hard worker” explained Cara. “It wasn’t a case of being negative; but rather it was an acceptance that bowling is a sport where you can’t control other people.  My thought process was always that if I play to the best of my ability, I will be in a good position, but someone else could have a better day!”.

A strong bowler with a high rev rate Cara was not. The crafty left hander was known for her incredible accuracy and speed control.

“I had a degree of natural ability, but my success was due to sheer hard work, discipline, practice, a thirst for wanting to improve and my strength was my ability to repeat” said Cara. “I won a lot of titles particularly in open events due to my accuracy and speed control.”

FLYING THE FLAG

Her career and name would be taken to new heights due to outstanding international performances. A nine-time Australian representative from 1989-1998, Honeychurch would become one of the most successful Australian bowlers in the history of the sport.

“Most of my career I wanted to win the World Cup and represent Australia at Asian and World   Championships.  I took great pride in representing my country – it was always the most important thing to me to represent my country and win medals in FIQ” said Cara.

Win medals she would. An astonishing 23 medals in Asian Youth, Asian Adult, World Youth and World Adult Championship competition. Eleven gold medals, nine silver and three bronze – a collection that most could only dream of obtaining.

Her most notable and unique experience would again come in Australian colours. This time it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity – The 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Cara would be one of four Australians that would represent both the country and sport in the famous multi-sport event.

“That was one of life’s great experiences for many reasons” explained Cara. “Bowling was an incredibly high profile sport in Malaysia. That was the first and only time I ever got to experience what it was like to be an athlete in a high-profile sport and have the weight of expectation.  I will never forget walking off the plane in Kuala Lumpur and seeing this wave of journalists run towards the group.  My immediate reaction was to turn around to see which athlete they wanted to speak to and I was totally unprepared that it was me,” said Cara. “We’d all underestimated the profile of bowling in Malaysia and the expectations of the host nation to win medals.  It was the first and really only time I’d experienced some gamesmanship where there were some tactics employed to try and put the Australians off their game.  It was one of the greatest lessons not only in sport but life in sticking to the process, staying in the moment and the realisation that you are in control of your emotions and how you respond to situations.  I’ve often reflected on that experience during periods of adversity”.   Cara continued, “What the Commonwealth Games did for the profile of the bowling was astonishing.  I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to be a part of it”.

The Commonwealth Games marked yet another tick off the bucket list. A list that left Cara questioning what came next.  Cara used to catch up  with PWBA sensation Carol Gianotti  each year when she was home from the US.  “Carol always encouraged Maxine (Nable) and I to give the PWBA tour a try”.  Carol would say, “Cara you have to go.  You don’t want to hit 40 and look back and wonder  what it was like.”  The more Cara thought about it, the more it made sense.  Carol Gianotti was the first female outside of the US to venture overseas and  make a living on the professional tour.  “Carol was a pioneer for women’s bowling not only in Australia but for the rest of the world.  She was the one who paved the way for women from all parts of the globe to make the PWBA truly a worldwide tour ”.

Cara won the 2000 PWBA Rookie of the Year award and collect 8 titles and runner up Player of the Year accolades along the way.  A televised 300 game would also net her USD 50,000 at the time making Cara one of the most successful Australians ever on tour.

“To have the opportunity to play against the legends of the sport and be successful is something I will always cherish” said Cara. “Now that I am in my forties, I am so glad I took Carol’s advice as I do now look back and truly appreciate that I have played the sport at all levels and there are no regrets”.

After three years on tour, for financial reasons the tour folded, sending Cara back to Australia with decisions to make.

“At the time amateur and professional bowling was separate, so when I came back home, I couldn’t represent Australia and I would had to sit out of international competition for several years. I decided that I had had enough. I was in my early thirties so I decided it was time to start a family”.

TBA’S CEO

A few years passed and it wasn’t until Cara received a tap on the shoulder to join the TBA board as a bowler representative that she got back involved. 

“I joined the Board for a couple of years and had a brief stint as Chair.  I did a lot of work setting up the High Performance portfolio which involved creating the structure and pathways.  Then the opportunity came up to apply for the CEO role.   There were a lot of challenges to overcome and relationships to mend that having a CEO with a background in the sport was advantageous.  The Board went through an independent recruitment process involving the Australian Sports Commission and I was  given the opportunity”.

Cara commenced as CEO in April 2010. Armed with a steep history in the sport and a strong finance background after a professional career at Hewlett Packard, Cara was determined to tackle some of the issues she’d lived through as an athlete that held the sport back.  In particular the fractured nature of the sport had to be addressed.  “In 2010 there were as many as five associations all selling memberships.  A sport of our size has to collaborate and work together and that was my primary objective”.

“Living through this as an athlete was frustrating to say the least. You had to choose and those choices had consequences particularly if you wanted to represent Australia.  Bowling in unsanctioned leagues meant that you couldn’t represent your state and the reasons that sat behind never made sense to me,” explained Cara.

“It took 3 years but for the first time since the 1980’s there was one national membership sold and bowlers had the freedom to choose the events that they wanted to compete in without repercussion”.  Another of Cara’s achievement was the coming together of TBA and Australian Disability Tenpin to run a combined National Disability Championship after years of running competing events at similar times in different locations for many years.   Her trademark friendly nature and understanding of the nuisances and complexities of the sport were instrumental in achieving these outcomes.   

“Whilst there is still work to be done I feel my greatest achievement has been bringing people together and getting them to work together by focusing on what’s important – and that’s the community we serve” said Cara.

“The greatest mistake this sport has made in the past is where there have been disagreements between leaders, another association gets set up.  Our sport is not large enough  and this has to stop.  People have to get together and work through their differences and make the tough decisions that  are right for the sport,” Cara said.

The role as CEO requires tough decisions that are not always universally loved. The transition from athlete to administrator was not an easy one. It was at times a very different reception as CEO of the sport compared to that as an athlete.

“You learn very quickly that you go from the high profile athlete to being ‘one of them’ – which I affectionately call the ‘dark side’ of sport administration.  That became clear, very quickly and it was difficult in the early days to accept” explained Cara.

As was the case throughout her athlete years, Cara would thrive with a challenge and introduce many initiatives for the sport throughout her tenure.

Key partnerships formed with Simpler Technology and Jeff Whitty enabled the creation of the Tenpin Results portal. An exciting product that showed league and tournament results along with award achievements all located in the one place and included in the bowlers membership fee was cutting edge and still is. 

TBA also became one of only three countries to formally accredit string machine centres in 2017. International Bowling Federation have just announced that not only are string machines now endorsed for competition but there is also a set of guidelines to guide Federations which is a major step forward for the sport.

Another innovation has been the creation of the two participation programs Bowl Patrol and Bowl Abilities. Bowl Patrol has introduced thousands of primary school aged children to the sport since inception in 2017, whilst Bowl Abilities which started in 2019 is proving to be a popular program for people with a disability and/or autism.

“I have never been afraid to try new things, to push what’s ‘sacred’, and one of my greatest frustrations at times is the resistance to change particularly when it’s abundantly clear that it’s needed.  Sticking to tradition when tradition is no longer embraced by most of the community is not the way forward.  Businesses and sports need to keep questioning whether their offerings are relevant and if they aren’t, we must be brave and make those changes” said Cara.

Grateful is the overwhelming emotion Cara feels after ending her tenure as an administrator in the sport she loves.  “I’m incredibly grateful to the sport for what it’s given me.  It helped shaped my character, taught me about discipline, hard work, success and failure and how to deal with that. The ability to travel the world and meet so many people from different cultures and walks of life and as a young person these experiences gave me an appreciation of how lucky we are to live in this country.  And what I learnt as an athlete, I have been able to apply later on as an administrator” explained Cara.

A lot of directors have come and gone in the ten years Cara has been CEO. All who have helped shaped the vision that has evolved along the way.

“I am fortunate to  always have had strong support from the Board throughout the last decade and I have learned a great deal from all them.  Different perspectives have helped frame my view on many aspects of the sport – many you don’t think about when you’re an athlete.  I can’t thank the Board enough for their support and vision provided throughout the last 10 years ” said Cara.

“There are a lot of good people in bowling.   The hardest part is leaving those great people behind particularly the staff that I’ve worked with so closely for many years.  Undoubtedly one of the reasons I have stayed as long as I have is because of the people I have gone on the journey with.  They are simply great individuals who are passionate and take great pride in their work” stated Cara.

Ten years as a CEO has required many decisions to be made throughout the lengthy tenure. The departure creates an opportunity to reflect.

“I didn’t always get it right, but I can look at myself in the mirror and know that every decision the Board and I made we did in the belief that it was the right one for the sport at the time” explained Cara.

THE FUTURE

Happy with the achievements, yet Cara acknowledges there is much work to be done, Cara leaves the organisation excited for the future of the sport.

“The sport needs to change and go to a different level.   We must work closer with bowling centres, and TBA needs to play a different role moving forward. The sport has so much potential” said Cara. “I’m thrilled with the direction International Bowling Federation is taking – they recognise and acknowledge there’s a lot of work to do, and they are on that journey.  We need to be bold and play our part to support them so that our sport can rise to new heights”.

The potential the sport possesses relates to what makes the game so exciting for such a wide variety of groups.

“Everybody loves bowling – there are not many other sports where children and grandchildren can play at the same time. It’s a beautiful sport for those with a disability.  It’s a relatively easy sport to learn but incredibly difficult to master – it keeps it challenging all the way through. I love how accessible it is – you don’t have to be a certain build or size to participate and thrive in our sport, but to be a master takes years and years of practice, and you never stop learning – it’s got something for everyone”.

Cara intends to step away from the sport entirely for the foreseeable future. After 35 years of service, no one could blame her for that. When asked if there was ever a chance to return to the lanes as an athlete, Cara was hesitant to provide a clear answer.

“You never say never! It is a sport for a lifetime, but it would be highly unlikely.  I still have children in high school; perhaps when they are older maybe, I don’t know – it would be great to bowl World Seniors I have to say!” pondered Cara.

35 years of service. State representative for eight years. Australian representative for 10. Owner of 23 medals in international competition and 3 Commonwealth Game Gold medals. Professional Tour bowler for three years with eight titles.  Two years as a TBA director and 10 years as CEO of Tenpin Bowling Australia.  A service that should allow a parting wish.

“If I had a parting wish, it would be that we truly get together as a sport and industry to collaborate in a way we’ve not done before” said Cara. “It’s all about how we get more people playing. If the base gets bigger, more people will want to play competitively – that I am sure.”

Respect is a label received through multiple examples of good work.  No one deserves that respect greater than Cara Honeychurch for the outstanding contribution she has provided the sport for so long. Her work ethic as an administrator would mirror that of an elite athlete. It’s the way she is wired. Accuracy and consistency may have been her strength whilst an athlete, but she also beautifully transferred the abilities as an administrator.

Never have I ever seen someone work as hard and as much as Cara. Never have I met someone who has achieved the multitude of sporting achievements she has only to remain a genuinely caring person.  Not unlike her mindset as an athlete, Cara prefers the process rather than the outcome. The philosophy has kept her motivated and energetic for ten years at the top of the tree at TBA.

Several times throughout interviewing Cara, she wanted to ensure I include a long list of names to thank.

“To all the leaders for their vision. The late Michael Cooke and ADT remain one of my proudest achievements in bringing those guys and us together with the event going from strength to strength. The Sports Commission, the Kinetica group, and Simpler Technology who all have made a huge contribution to our organisation” Cara stated. The list went on and on.

What’s important now is that we thank you Cara Honeychurch.

Thank you for all your hard work throughout the years. The profound impact you have had both on the sport and the people within it will be your lasting legacy. We wish you nothing but the best in your new chapter of life.

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